God of War: Ascension (PS3)

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God of War: Ascension was revealed to be in development by Sony’s Santa Monica Studio in mid-April. We were hardly surprised at this announcement, given the fact that the God of War series has sold over 21 million units worldwide, a sales figure that was achieved in just seven years since God of War debuted on the PlayStation 2 back in 2005.

We learnt that the game would be a prequel and that it would feature multiplayer for the first time in the franchise’s history. We couldn’t glean that much more information from the one minute teaser trailer Sony released alongside the announcement either, and so as you can guess we were happy to get the opportunity to sit down with Bruno Velazquez, Principal Animator and Lead Game Animator at Sony, to chat about God of War: Ascension and see the singleplayer campaign in action.

The demo, which takes place about halfway through the game, kicked off with Kratos arriving on an island in search of an item that will help him in his quest. Velazquez explained how this is a prequel to the God of War series, and that Kratos is much younger in the game, a little bit more human and not quite the beast that he became in God of War III. He’s not quite as bitter, and we even saw him saving someone in the demo, not something that you see very often with Kratos. He’s not a god yet, in fact he doesn’t even know that he’s a demi-god yet, so he’s a little bit more vulnerable sometimes. The game takes place six months after he’s murdered his wife and child, and he’s going through a rough time. Kratos is seeking to break his bond with the God of War, Aries, but as you can imagine this is not something that you can easily walk away from, and this is the tale of how he actually breaks that bond.

God of War: Ascension Screenshot 1

We got to see a few of the new enemies that are being introduced into the game, such as the Satyr Captain and the Satyr minions that he commands. The developer also wanted to showcase the fact that Kratos can now pick up weapons and objects from the environment and use them, as well as take these from enemies. Of course Kratos still has the traditional Blades of Chaos, but now he can seamlessly go between them and use both weapons without having to go to a menu to switch. Kratos is still a Spartan warrior at this point, but he’s good with more traditional weapons at this stage as well. You can also discard the weapons, and get a powerful attack, shown as the Goat Captain is stunned and then used as a weapon against the other enemies.

In keeping with the tradition of sea creatures in God of War, a massive sea creature now emerged and attempted to impede Krato’s progress. Earlier in the game Kratos acquired an ability called Life Cycle, this allows him to rebuild or decay certain structures throughout the game. It will be very prominent with the puzzles in the game and can be used in combat too, and you will be using it a lot throughout the game. This will be the case with all of the items and abilities that Kratos acquires, the developer is making sure that they’re useful in all kinds of situations.

There are green markers to show what objects you can use the Life Cycle on, and there will be a lot more complex things you can do with the ability but this was an example of a simple puzzle: Kratos didn’t rebuild a structure all the way, instead stopped about halfway through and then used the platform to get to a place he couldn’t reach before. Ascension also features a new navigation system which has been upgraded a bit so Kratos can interact with the environment more.

The Life Cycle ability is just a simple example of the kind of puzzles you will discover in Ascension, there will be lots of puzzles that require you to think about how you will build or decay objects to help you navigate your way through the game. There will also be other abilities that Kratos will acquire, abilities that will also be used both in combat and in puzzles. You can look forward to a lot of puzzles that are like God of War and God of War 3, Sony promise to continue to deliver puzzles as complex as that.

God of War: Ascension Screenshot 2

Enemies are waiting for Kratos around every corner. But luckily even if you don’t have a sub-weapon equipped you can still use Krato’s physical attacks. There’s also a new Rage ability, which is something that you can turn on during combat which will make Kratos’ moves a lot more powerful and deal a lot more damage. This new ability is similar to some of the abilities like Rage of the Gods or Rage of the Titans in previous God of War games. Yet this time around you’ll be able to use it a lot more often, this is because the way that the meter fills up is tied around combos, parrying and dodging at the last minute. As a result you’ll be able to build that meter from combat a lot faster (and even rewarded for skilful play, rather than just ‘button mashing’) and the ability will be able to be used a lot more frequently than before.

God of War: Ascension still features the traditional God of War mini-games, but there’s also a new prompt-less mini-game that we were shown during the demo. Rather than just following the button prompts on the screen, the mini-game is more interactive – you’ll have to watch out for the animation and dodge at the right time. Sony wanted to introduce something new and different to the traditional mini-games. Throughout the game you’ll find tougher enemies that require small mini-games that you have to watch out, dodge, stab and fight in real time. Sony is still working on the details of how they’re going to teach the player about these new mini-games, but for now we know that there will be some sort of language to the player telling them to get ready for the prompt-less mini-game or the traditional ones.

We caught our first glimpse of this new prompt-less mini-game when Kratos faced the Elephantaur (like a Minotaur, but with an elephant head) – he’s one of the very formidable enemies that you’ll be facing in the game. If you’re not fast enough and don’t dodge at the right time the elephant will grab you and knock you out. We also saw the new tether ability in action, Kratos was tethered to one of the goat enemies and he then dragged him along, used him as a weapon and continued to attack him as well.

According to Velazquez, the game will still feature the traditional mini-games, and these traditional quick-time events will be as brutal as the previous games. You’ve got to be quick, if you miss them you will get knocked out and take a lot of damage. The sea creature then emerged again, and Kratos left to go deal with him – at which point the demo ended.

God of War: Ascension Screenshot 3

Turning to the actual gameplay now, if you’ve ever played a God of War before it looks like you will be familiar with the way things work in terms of combat, platforming and puzzles. The formula is still there, but Sony has added to it with the new mechanics highlighted above, which will definitely bring something fresh and innovative to the franchise. While I didn’t get the chance to actually play the game for myself, I can tell you that I was itching to get right in there, and test out the new abilities and learn more about the story…it’s just as intriguing, captivating and addictive as any other God of War game has ever been.

There was also a multiplayer demo on the showfloor at the Sony booth. Oliver got the chance to put that through its paces, and you can look forward to that preview soon. In the meantime, however, here’s a bit more information about what we can expect with the multiplayer element of God of War: Ascension.

The multiplayer will see up to eight players experiencing objective-based battles in brutal online action. You won’t play as Kratos, but rather create a new warrior and customise him, and there is a light story to this. You’ll also have to pledge allegiance to one of four gods when you create your character, and based on this allegiance (either to Zeus, Hades, Poseidon and Aries) you will gain different abilities and have the chance to unlock different abilities. For example, the hammer and sword have completely different and unique move sets to what Kratos displays. You’ll also be able to equip different sets of amour depending on what god you aligned with.

There is a bit of an overlap between the singleplayer and multiplayer of Ascension in the fact that you can pick up weapons from the floor and from enemies in the singleplayer campaign, and these weapons will also be available in the multiplayer portion of the game (for example, the javelin and sword). This also works the other way around, and so weapons that you pick up in multiplayer can be available in the singleplayer game (for example, the club).

There is a lot of progression through the multiplayer, because even if you have upgraded and maxed out one of your characters you can go back, create a new one and align yourself with a different god. Of course it goes without saying that the more you play the more powerful your character will become.

According to Velazquez, Sony is equally focussed on both the singleplayer and multiplayer experiences in God of War: Ascension. The team wants to make sure both are equally as fun and compelling. They’ve never done multiplayer in God of War before, and this is their new big thing for the series, so they wanted to make sure they took all of the elements that make God of War, that defines God of War, and implement them into multiplayer. This means they have a smooth, brutal combat system, navigation and big epic pieces, such as the giant Cyclops who featured in the background in the multiplayer demo, attacking the player and who the player can interact with. The bottom line is that all of these elements have been taken into account, so that anyone who is familiar with the singleplayer game can jump right into the multiplayer and feel like it’s an extension of God of War. Velazquez also confirmed that no Move features are implemented right now and that there are none planned so far. But God of War: Ascension will be supporting 3D!

Check out the first singleplayer campaign trailer from the game below, you’ll be able to glimpse a few of the scenes that we saw in the demo at E3, and a new multiplayer trailer after that.